I am a 39 year-old mom of two daughters, 15 and 10, who are less than pleased with my recent revelation that I’m lesbian. They thought our family was the 90’s equivalent of the Cleavers.
Their dad and I divorced five months ago without a clear-cut custody order, wishfully thinking we would be able to develop our own parenting plan. The girls have basically shunned me and have thrown their full love and support to dad while I have been relegated to car-pool nanny status for an hour or so a day. Dad is quasi-supportive, claiming to want the girls to maintain a relationship with me, but he won’t “make” them do anything they find uncomfortable.
I am desperately trying to avoid a legal route that would add fuel to the fire. The girls refuse to increase the time they spend with me or even consider visiting my new home because they have no interest in being involved with “that” part of my life. How do I begin to rebuild the relationships I once had?
This question has more to do with the divorce than it does with your coming out, but your coming out adds an extra layer. Because your sexuality was the factor that changed the family structure, you become an easy target for blame and anger — especially if your pre-divorce family was what might be considered “perfect.”
I agree with you that a custody battle should be avoided — by the time it is over with, your kids might be in college and your savings drained.
I’m sure it is very painful to not have the relationship you had with them before you came out. Show your children that your love for them is not contingent upon them wanting to spend time with you. They need time to adjust and they need to know that you will be there for them when they reach out to you again.
It is very typical for a “quasi-supportive” parent to enable children’s rejection of the other parent, believing they are doing the right thing. From your ex-husband’s perspective, he doesn’t want to “make” the children do something they don’t want to do (and their preference to stay with him is a big stroke to his ego.) But the other dynamic that might be going on is that the children know that their father is feeling hurt, so they don’t want to hurt him more by spending time with you. In their eyes right now, they have lost their mother as they knew her, and they might worry that they would be betraying their dad if they spend quality time with you. In the simplest terms from this potential perspective: they already lost one parent and they are not willing to risk rejection from the other.
In this situation, a fully-supportive — not quasi-supportive — co-parent is needed. Your children need to hear from their dad that he thinks it’s important they spend time with you again. This is not about your ego or his, nor is it about anyone winning or losing. This is about children having a right to a relationship with one parent without fear of losing the other.
Will your ex-husband’s cooperation be too difficult to attain? Consider hiring a mediator, seeking neutral family or friends to facilitate an agreement, or attending family counseling.
No matter what, keep loving your kids. No matter what.